“BBI Ruling Leaves Kenya at a Crossroads” blog post by Michelle Gavin at Council on Foreign Relations “Africa in Transition“. [Ed. note: Michelle Gavin was also handling the Africa program at CFR during the fraudulent 2007 election and ensuing crisis. Non-resident fellow Jendayi Frazer, of course, was Asst. Secretary of State during the election and crisis. Between the two there is unusually intimate institutional memory for the Council on Foreign Relations, along with the related competing interests associated with the connections.]
Same issues as 2013 and 2017, same alleged frantic time-crunch.
For instance, the 2010 “New Katiba” granted the right to vote to Kenyans in the diaspora, starting with the 2012 general election. Even though the election was postponed to 2013, the IEBC under then-Chairman Issack Hassan elected to disenfranchise diaspora voters in spite of the coming into force of the new Constitution.
The current IEBC Chairman, Wafula Chebukati, was then appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta from the nominees of a controversial selection process and took office in January 2017 in time for the general election and annulled presidential vote that August, marked by the unsolved abduction, torture and murder of the ICT Director and the subsequent resignation of a majority of the Commissioners.
Although civil society groups had obtained a 2015 court ruling to enforce the diaspora voting requirement of the Constitution, the IEBC still failed in 2017 to implement more than a very limited, truncated, diaspora vote process.
See “Diaspora Voting in Kenya: a Promise Denied“, Elizabeth Iams Wellman and Beth Elise Whitaker, African Affairs, Vol. 120, Issue 479, April 2021, Pages 199-217. (In 2010, Kenya extended voting rights to its estimated 3,000,000 citizens living abroad . . . Yet . . . fewer than 3,000 Kenyans were permitted to vote from abroad in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections. What explains the failure of the Kenyan government to implement diaspora voting on a broader scale? . . . We argue that uncertainty about the number of Kenyan emigrants and their political preferences, paired with a highly competitive electoral climate, meant there was little political will to push for more widespread implementation of diaspora voting.)
The latest breakthrough is from Stephen R. Weissman in Foreign Policy this week: “Why did Washington let a stolen election stand in the Congo?“. Weissman gets significantly more detail than the previous stories have accumulated on the Catholic church organized and U.S. subsidized “parallel vote tabulation”:
This account is based primarily on 20 interviews—including 10 with U.S. officials—that were conducted on background and without attribution to promote candor. Foreign Policy offered the U.S. State Department the opportunity to comment on passages stemming from interviews with U.S. officials, but it declined.
In a Jan. 3, 2019 press statement, the State Department urged CENI to transparently count votes and “ensure” its results “correspond to results announced at each of DRC’s 75,000 polling stations.” At the same time, the department ignored the one resource that could have held the Kabila-dominated, corruption-laden CENI to account: the church’s U.S.-funded election observation project.
Weissman has delivered the type of detailed story that I had always hoped to see some enterprising journalist write about the decision to “look away” from election fraud in Kenya in 2007–in particular what I hoped theNew York Times was in the process of reporting in 2008 when I was interviewed about the “spiked” exit poll indicating an opposition win. The DRC is not a close U.S. ally and regional center for the “international community” in the same way that Kenya is, so perhaps the DRC is a more realistic venue for a tougher examination of mixed messages and mixed motives. Also, because violence did not explode in DRC in 2019 it is easier for officials involved to talk to reporters (without personal attribution) about the decision making process.
The next step for reporters who are interested would obviously be to pursue the documentary record.
Regardless, the paradigm is the same in terms of the choices between “diplomacy” and transparency in election assistance and election observation.
As noted in my last post, Kenya’s outgoing President, Uhuru Kenyatta, has initiated his process of of appointing new Commissioners to fill longstanding vacancies in most of the seats on Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission. How independent will the Commission be in conducting the expected Building Bridges Initiative constitutional referendum and the 2022 general election?
While I have my own expectations based on my experience from 2007 and 2013 and my investigation and research regarding those two elections, along with watching events of 2016 and 2017 and since, the purpose of this post is to highlight an academic paper on this very subject published in London by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy with funding from Her Majesty’s Government. Nic Cheeseman, renowned Professor of Democracy and “friend of the blog” and Jorgen Elklit, Professor Emeritus at Aarhus University are the authors: “Understanding and Assessing Electoral Commission Independence: a New Framework“.
Take time to read the whole thing, which proposes a systematic way to study and grapple with the question in any country–“eleven criteria through which to evaluate electoral commission independence, grouped into three main categories of autonomy: a) institutional and leadership; b) functional and decision-making; and c) financial and budgetary. For each criteria, a battery of questions is provided to enable readers to qualitatively evaluate whether the degree of independence in each case is: ‘highly satisfactory’, ‘fairly satisfactory’ or ‘not satisfactory’.” But in particular, the authors have chosen Kenya 2017 as one of the three case studies to cover in depth:
Case 1: Separating fact from fiction in Kenya 2017
The Kenyan general election of 2017 provides a compelling example of the difficulty of proving the independence (or otherwise) of electoral commissions. The Kenyan electoral commission is formally independent as indicated by its name, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). It was created by a provision of the 2010 constitution, following the dissolution of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), which had been heavily criticised for mishandling the 2007 general elections. The Commission is made up of seven commissioners, one of who is designated to be the Chair. Although the Commission is appointed by the President, there are a number of positive indicators of formal independence. Most notably, the Commission was created by a provision in the 2010 constitution and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Act; the list of commissioners selected by the president must be confirmed by parliament; and, none of the commissioners may be a current member of a political party, implying a degree of insulation from partisan ties. . . .
. . . .
By the end of 2017, it was therefore clear that the electoral commission was not fully independent, that partisan pressure was undermining reform efforts, and that the murder of Mr Msando has generated a great deal of fear and concern for electoral officials at multiple levels. However, it was not clear exactly how far the IEBC’s independence had been compromised, or exactly what the consequences of this had been. The Supreme Court’s nullification of the first election suggests that the problems within the IEBC were substantial, and encouraged the widespread perception that the Commission had been biased in favour of the ruling party. Given a history of controversial elections and of alleged partisan bias it is natural to assume that the independence of the Commission had been fundamentally violated. But it remains possible that these errors resulted from weak governance and capacity rather than a deliberate attempt to rig the election in favour of one side or another because a parallel vote tabulation by domestic observers was in line with the official outcome. The Kenyan case therefore demonstrates how difficult it can be to prove a lack of independence beyond reasonable doubt, even when major questions are raised about the quality of an election.
While Kenya’s IEBC is clearly not a ‘highly independent’ electoral commission, it is harder to say exactly where it belongs. The reports of electoral observers would suggest ‘moderately independent’ but the evidence from dissident commissioners and some civil society groups would say ‘not independent’ at all. A fair evaluation would place it somewhere in between, probably falling on the ‘not independent’ side.
Three years after the resignations of a majority of Kenya’s election commissioners, President Uhuru Kenyatta has formally taken notice of the four vacancies and gazetted the process through which he will appoint replacements.
Why now? While the President has not explained specifically to my knowledge, his ruling Jubilee Party is seeking to have the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission conduct a constitutional referendum within weeks to approve amendments derived from the “Building Bridges Initiative”. (A version of a proposal to amend the constitution was passed by most of Kenya’s county assemblies positioned as a citizen initiative. It is now before Parliament where there is internal debate among proponents as to whether to approve it for referendum as is, or to allow amendments to what has already been passed by the counties, which would raise additional legal questions. Challenges to the legality of the process to date are pending in the courts already.)
Remember that U.S. president Joe Biden has “been around”, with far more diplomatic experience than any of his four most recent predecessors in the White House. In 2010 as Vice President he met with Kenyan Speaker Kenneth Marende, along with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, ahead of that year’s constitutional referendum during the period in which Kenya was deciding between justice-oriented remedies and impunity for the 2007-08 Post-Election Violence.
Kenyan Speaker of Parliament Kenneth Marende seems to be getting an increased international profile. Navanethem Pillay, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, called on Marende on Monday, expressing concern regarding progress on prosecution of suspects for post election violence. According to the Standard she singled out Marende for praise, “saying he had made immense contribution in stabilising the country through some historic rulings and the manner he handled issues in Parliament”.
U.S. Vice President Biden will call on Marende Tuesday as well, along with his meeting with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga.
Interestingly, Marende says that Parliament “would easily pass” legislation to provide for a “local tribunal” to try election violence cases under Kenyan criminal law “if the ICC acted swiftly by taking away key perpetrators of the violence”.
Biden will leave Thursday morning, the day of the South Mugirango by-election to fill the seat vacated by a successful election petition against Omingo Magara, originally of ODM. As it stands the race is hot, with Raila Odinga campaigning for the substitute ODM nominee, Ibrahim Ochoi, William Ruto campaigning for Magara running as a PDP nominee and heavyweights in PNU affiliates split among Magara and other candidates.
After eleven years I am taking a real hiatus from writing here for early 2021.
First, there is so much going on in Kenyan politics relative to my time to really delve in, uncover and keep current—it is all very much familiar and still “frozen” from 2007-08 in many ways, but I risk being simply wrong if I write without adequate depth this many years since I have actually lived in Kenya.
Second, I am tired of having and expressing opinions after the all the overwrought drama of the Trump years and watching all of the continuing open and notorious corruption in Kenya and East Africa more generally.
Third, I have made a career change. I have left the corporate world and am back in private law/consulting practice and have some potential intersection between development issues I might write about here and things that I am not able to about as a matter of professional obligation.
Kabila’s innovation was to turn directly to his Israeli surveillance and security contractors to broker the hiring of lobbyists connected to the Trump Administration, such as Robert Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group who repped the Kenyatta-Ruto Administration in Washington during its 2017 re-election effort. Kenyatta hired Stryk through the Kenyan foreign ministry rather than through surveillance contractors. One could suggest that the use of outside-the-Beltway intermediaries raised eyebrows and ultimately loosened tongues.
You owe it to yourself to read Samaha’s whole story, but the thing that is most profoundly disappointing to me is the report that my government learned about massive corruption at the CENI in time to say something before the vote but elected not to.
This casts new color to the internal debate within the U.S. government over what to say and do, and what to disclose, when CENI subsequently announced “results” that lacked credibility.
The excuse for not speaking to government-sponsored election fraud is supposedly the fear of instability from aggrieved voters faced with intransigent incumbents—a real concern—but how can we claim to be serious about democracy support when we chose to keep quite on obviously debilitating fraud before the vote? A key question for me about the Kenyan election disaster in 2007 has always been how much we knew about Kibaki’s intentions before the election, having documented through FOIA that Ambassador Ranneberger personally witnessed the wrongful changing of tallies at the Kenyan IEBC but still encouraged Kenyans to accept the vote without disclosure.
Under Nangaa’s leadership, CENI officials inflated by as much as $100 million the costs for the electronic voting machine contract with the intent to use surplus funds for personal enrichment, bribes, and campaign costs to fund the election campaign of Kabila’s candidate. Nangaa, with other CENI officials, awarded an election-related contract and doubled the award amount on the understanding that the winning company would award the extra funds to a DRC company controlled by CENI leadership. Nangaa approved the withdrawal of CENI operation funds for non-authorized budget items for personal use by DRC government employees. Nangaa ordered CENI employees to fabricate expense receipts to cover spending gaps resulting from CENI funds being used for personal gain. Nangaa delivered bribes to Constitutional Court justices to uphold a decision by the CENI to delay DRC’s 2016 elections.
At the time of the last election in 2011, Africa democratizers were buoyed by an understood success story in Ghana, the hope of an “Arab Spring”, the lull of violence in Iraq and more generally encouraging environment. As explained in my posts from that time, the U.S.- funded International Observation Mission (conducted by the Carter Center) found the election to fall short of adequacy by the applicable international standards and said so explicitly.
Initially standing up to Kabila over the failures of his alleged re-election and pushing for them to be addressed appeared to be U.S. policy. If so, we apparently changed our mind for some reason. Tolerating a bad election then leaves us in a more difficult position with seven years of water under that bridge. The U.S. has stepped up recently to pressure Kabila to schedule the election, allow opposition and stand down himself.
In this vein, we need to be careful, and transparent, as things proceed to continue to evaluate realistically what is feasible and where we are really able and willing to assist. In particular, the decision to initiate and fund one or more Election Observation Missions for a vote in these circumstances should involve serious soul-searching at the State Department (and/or USAID).
[As the year winds down and things crank up in Kenya’s 2022 presidential campaign and BBI referendum I am going through some of my old unpublished drafts – this is an idea that could matter that the parties involved do not have an incentive to bring forward.]
To me, the answer to the headline question is clearly “yes”.
Very specifically to my experience as in Kenya in 2007 as International Republican Institute Resident East Africa Director, I was able to explain to the USAID Kenya Mission that we at IRI were bound as a party to a published International Code of Conduct in conducting an International Election Observation that required us to maintain independence from the Ambassador.
(Readers may recall that then-Ambassador Ranneberger had pushed for a USAID-funded IRI Election Observation Mission for Kenya’s 2007 election which USAID had decided not to conduct in their ordinary planning process for the election and that IRI did not seek to undertake.)
We on the IRI staff were able to push back on Ambassador Ranneberger’s desire to select Election Observation Mission delegates, although we ended up informally going along with Ranneberger’s choice of Connie Newman and Chester Crocker as lead delegates (Crocker was not available to travel on the dates required).
The rest of the delegates were our choices rather than the Ambassador’s and we resisted Ranneberger’s expressed desire to remove his predecessor Amb. Mark Bellamy from the Observation until Ranneberger “laid down a marker” as he put it.
Likewise, we invited against Ranneberger’s wishes Bellamy’s predecessor as Ambassador to Kenya, Johnnie Carson, who was then the Africa lead at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and later Assistant Secretary of State under Obama (Carson was not cleared to participate–I was privately relieved for two reasons: it got me off the hook on a potential conflict with Ranneberger and while Carson seemed like a real asset for the Observation I thought the optics of having a high ranking Executive Branch employee and particularly one directly in an Intelligence Community job would not be great from an independence standpoint. In hindsight it might have done some real good to have him there.).
Unfortunately, on the now perhaps infamous Exit Poll, I was more or less naked in dealing with USAID and the Ambassador. The polling program was under a separate Cooperative Agreement between the CEPPS (IRI, NDI and IFES) and USAID which had started with the Exit Poll for the 2005 Constitutional Referendum. (The defeat of the proposed “Wako Draft” Constitution gave rise to the Orange Democratic Party which led Kenya’s opposition in the 2007, 2013 and 2017 elections, culminating in the March 2018 “handshake” and the present “Building Bridges Initiative” referendum campaign).
The 2005-07 polling program was scheduled to end with a public opinion survey in September 2007, well ahead of the general election, the date of which was not set until weeks later. USAID amended the Agreement to add the general election Exit Poll at the end. It was only after I initially reported a few days before the election that we were going to have to cancel the Exit Poll due to the objection of Electoral Commission of Kenya Chairman Samuel Kivuitu that I was told by USAID that the Exit Poll as a higher priority for the Ambassador than the Election Observation itself. Kivuitu’s acquiescence was achieved.
On the late afternoon of Election Day as I was dragging my feet on releasing preliminary numbers before the polls closed I was told that “the whole reason” for doing the Exit Poll was for “early intelligence” for the Ambassador and USAID went to our subcontracted polling firm to get the figures. [Remember that I covered all this in complaints to the Inspectors General at USAID and State.]
IRI had no established backstop to protect itself from interference on the Exit Poll because unlike on the Election Observation Mission there was no published Code or Agreement that I could use to push back to preserve our independence.
We had agreed internally at IRI that we should not report any Exit Poll numbers externally including to USAID or the Embassy until the polls closed, and it was quite clear that we had no contractual obligation to make a report during the vote. But given that USAID was willing to go underneath us to the pollster it was out of our hands literally and there were no clear standards beyond that.
The US Government ultimately had rights to our data as a matter of government contracts law and USAID had arguably and ambiguously constrained our ability to release the Exit Poll results to the public in the Amendment to the Cooperative Agreement funding the Exit Poll by providing for “consultation” with the Embassy on “diplomatic or other” considerations. The Cooperative Agreement for the Program was neither classified nor available publicly until I had it released under the Freedom of Information Act years later. The Exit Poll from the 2005 Referendum had been released.
Fortunately we have not seen another disaster quite like Kenya 2007-08, but the questions about transparency and release and reporting of information from election verification and anti-fraud tools are still there. For instance in the most recent elections in the DRC and Malawi, as well as the controversy in Kenya in 2013. This could be addressed by pre-established standards or codes if donors, host governments and democracy assistance organizations or implementers are willing to give up some of their case-by-case flexibility and frankly some of the power of controlling information.